Skill Saw Guide: How to Use a Circular Saw
As with any power tool, you really want to know what you’re doing before you start using it.
Circular saws are very dangerous, and won’t hesitate to cut your fingers off if you’re not paying attention!
As compared to other power saws, circular saws are actually pretty tricky to use safely and effectively. You have to move the saw through the material (rather than the material through the saw, as with a table saw for example), which opens a lot of ways for things to go wrong.
The good news is that if you follow our simple 3 step cutting guide outlined in this article, you’ll be using a circular saw like a pro in no time!
3 Simple Steps
Step 1: Correct circular saw and blade types
There’s a few different types of circular saws, and even more types of blades – It can all be a bit confusing, so learning how to use a skill saw can be intimidating.
It’s important that you’re using the correct type of saw (and especially blade) for the job at hand.
If you’re doing some general woodworking (as most users will be), then a standard circular saw and crosscutting, rip cutting, or combination blade will be just fine. If that’s you, you can probably just skip on to step 2.
Even outside of basic woodworking, most jobs will use a standard sized circular saw which uses a blade between 5 and 10 inches.
There are also mini circular saws, and you probably don’t want to use those for tough jobs like decking or tougher materials than wood. But aside from that, you should be set to go with your standard saw.
There’s a bit more to talk about when it comes to blade choice, though. For that, you can read our guide about how to choose the best circular saw blade.
Circular saws can be used to handle many materials other than wood, including tile, concrete, brick, aluminum, and so on.
Even with just wood, it’s important to consider the type of wood. You can get a better cut in hardwood or softwoods by using blades specifically designed for each type of wood.
Again, if you’re just cutting basic stock from your lumber yard then you probably don’t need to worry about any of this.
But if you’re using a certain type of wood or any other material, you’ll definitely want to look into the correct type of blade to use.
Lastly, you’ll, of course, want to make sure that your saw is capable of making the cut you’re planning.
- Does it have enough power to deal with the material at hand?
- Is the maximum cutting depth larger than the depth of cut you’re planning?
- Can it bevel to my required angle?
With all of this out of the way, we’re ready for step 2!
Step 2: Plan the cut
We’ll break this one down into a few sub-steps:
- Measurements & markings
- Cutting surface
- Saw settings
- Cutting space
Measurements & markings
It goes without saying that for most of your cuts, you’ll want to be pretty accurate. And for that, you need accurate markings on your stock to follow as cut lines.
This step is pretty obvious and simple – measure along the piece, and then mark your cut lines in pencil.
Use a tape measure to make an initial small notch with pencil, and then use a square or ruler to score the perfectly straight cutting line.
Don’t forget to double check your measurements again after marking and before cutting!
Always remember the old saying – “Measure twice, cut once”.
Whether you’re using a bench, sawhorse, or whatever – take a second to make sure it’s all setup correctly.
It should support your material well, and give you a sturdy base on which to make your cut.
Adjust the cutting depth and bevel angle on your circular saw as required for the cut.
This once again is something you’ll want to double check – being a little off here can lead to the same inaccurate results as being a bit off with your markings!
Also, make sure the depth and bevel angle are securely locked in place… The last thing you want is for either of these to start moving around during your cut.
This one is really obvious, but you need to have enough room to see your cut through to the end safely. Using a circular saw is no joke and circular saw safety should be your priority.
That means physically having enough space to move the saw and yourself through the cut fully from start to end.
You’ll be not only controlling a dangerous tool, but also trying to stick to a precise cut line – so having adequate space to maneuver carefully is very important.
Also, make sure that your circular saw cord is long enough to reach the end of your cut. For added convenience, you might consider a cordless circular saw.
Step 3: Make The Cut
Now, finally, we’re ready to cut!
Take a final second to visualize the cut in your head and go through your mental checklist:
- Markings are double checked
- Saw settings are correct
- The cutting surface is secure
- There’s enough space to see the cut through fully
Now you can line the guide notches of your circular saw up with the cutting line you drew on the stock, at set the edge of the base flat on your stock.
Make sure to keep the base flat on your material surface through the whole cut!
Next, engage the saw and start to push it through your wood, while keeping the cut line between the guide notches of your saw.
Obviously, try to keep as straight as possible along your cut line.
If you’re cutting wood you should give a little margin for error. Cut slightly to the “outside” of the line you drew, and then you can plane the wood down for a perfect finish after the cut. This won’t work with other materials, so you’ll want to stick exactly to your line for those.
Push the saw through the material with enough force to keep it moving, but don’t push too hard or fast…
If you hear the motor starting to get bogged down or if the blade starts to bind, then you’re pushing too hard – or, perhaps the saw doesn’t have the power to do what you’re asking of it.
So just push the saw at a decent pace through your wood, and if you get the motor bogging down or blade binding then just back off on the speed and keep pushing on through the material.
Continue the whole way through your cut, and finish it cleanly along your cut line.
After the cut is complete make sure that the blade guard slides back into place.
Keep in mind that if you don’t have a blade brake on your circular saw, it’ll keep spinning for a while after your cut and it’s still just as dangerous now as it was during the cut!
After learning how to use a circular saw and making a few cuts, you’ll be like a pro in no time!
Following these three steps every time you make a cut should make for accurate and safe cuts every time.
So get out there and cut, build, make, and enjoy!